I don't sell kitchens but, of course, I design them and I often recommend the sort of kitchen that clients should look for ... so I'm very interested in how kitchens are retailed.
The biggest disadvantage of buying anything on-line, is that you can't see it or touch it, before you buy. With kitchens, though, it's often nationally available brands that are sold from e-commerce sites. You'll find brands like Second Nature and Burbidge and Kitchen Stori, which are available just as unit doors. The retailer can then make their own carcasses and attach the doors to them. As long as the carcasse specification is reasonable, then the kitchens will be the same as those brands anywhere else ... and you can probably see them in a local showroom.
Kitchens with doors from Second Nature or Burbidge are available both from showrooms and on-line
I'm certainly not recommending that you look at kitchens in a local showroom and then buy a kitchen with the same doors from an e-commerce site. That would be very unfair to the local showroom owner. But are there any reasons why you shouldn't do that - apart from the injustice of it.
Well, as many disgruntled kitchen purchasers would tell you, there's a lot more to getting a sparkly new, gorgeous and efficient kitchen, than just the quality of the doors and carcasses.
The first requirement is a decent design and a plan for your installer to follow. Some e-commerce sites will provide a plan for you - if you send them the room dimensions - others don't want to know; they'll only supply to an existing plan. Some will do a plan but won't stretch to photorealistic visualisations.
Well, of course, the absence of a design service and plan isn't a problem ... you know where to come for those! It could be argued that a good photorealistic rendering of your new kitchen is better than seeing a showroom display. It shows you exactly what your own room could look like. All you need is a sample of the door(s) you're planning to use for your kitchen units - to check on the quality, colour and finish - and all good e-commerce sites will sell you a sample door.
A good photorealistic visualisation (this is one of ours, of course) can be more important than seeing a showroom display
Of course, the fact that they don't provide a design service (with well paid salespeople) is one of the reasons that some on-line stores can sell kitchens at lower prices ... it's not just the showroom overheads.
The next step is putting together an order, to find out the price, or getting a quote (filling in an on-line order form doesn't mean you have to buy, of course ... you can abandon it, if it looks too expensive). Small e-commerce businesses will price the kitchen for you, from the plan, but one of the biggest on-line retailers will only accept orders that you've entered onto their ordering system yourself. That's because they don't want to waste time quoting for kitchens that are never going to be sold (which takes up a big chunk of time for any normal kitchen showroom). I'm sure they check the orders once they get them ... but you have to work out how many handles and lengths of plinth, cornice etc. that you need. And, for Second Nature kitchens, you need to work out how many large panels you need, to cut your end panels from (if you need them).
Once you've decided which online retailer to use and placed the order with them, all the component parts, worktops and appliances, need to be ordered from the manufacturers or from distributors. Everything that's needed for your kitchen then needs to be gathered together, ready to be sent out to your site.
This is the part where a lot of retailers fall down. And it's apparently the step that has prevented the new on-line re-incarnation of MFI from selling kitchens. They simply don't have the confidence that they can co-ordinate that process and send out all the components of a kitchen at once. If you look at the complaints about big retailers (who do have showrooms) like B&Q and Wren; most of those are about missing parts; or the wrong colour of worktop; or the wrong sink or appliance model. I think it's the scale of the operation and the quality of the customer service staff that matters here. Large businesses selling budget kitchens often don't employ skilled staff and you know what they say about paying peanuts ... .
There's much less of a problem with small businesses who have experienced staff to check the orders before they go out, or where the business owners do it themselves. That's especially true, if the business also has it's own showroom and provides kitchens to local fitters (who will be very disgruntled if there's anything missing).
The final step in achieving your dream kitchen is the actual installation. For a stunning kitchen, you need a very good kitchen fitter. The influence that the skill of the kitchen fitter has, on the finished result, is often underestimated. Kitchen showrooms should be able to point you in the direction of a good fitter, even if they're not directly employed by the business, but you don't need to go through a showroom; there are plenty of independent kitchen fitters about ... try to get recommendations from friends or neighbours. Where you might fall down, though, is in the overall project management.
There are often a lot of things to organise on site, for a new kitchen. You may need plasterers, electricians, plumbers, granite fitters and tilers - as well as a kitchen fitter. Some fitters will organise all that for you - but you need to check - and if you're having building work done, then your builder may project manage (especially if he's being paid to fit the kitchen - but make sure he's using proper kitchen fitters, it is a specialised job). If you buy your kitchen from a showroom, then they will usually organise all of that for you (with varying degrees of efficiency) but some internet retailers couldn't care less if the worktop delivery is delayed until after your fitter has left. You can take on the organisation yourself, of course, but if nobody is in overall charge, things are likely to go pear shaped.
So - after weighing up the pros and the cons, should you consider buying your kitchen on-line? I'd say yes - as long as you ...
Even if all of that is sorted, it's worth getting a quote from a local showroom, if they specialise in the brand you want to buy. Ask to speak to the owner or manager and explain that you have your own plan and fitters and just want the kitchen on a "supply only" basis. They may well be prepared to do you a special deal.
If you'd like Majjie's help to design your kitchen please have a look at our Kitchen Design Services pages. We provide an affordable and professional service, which can be tailored to your needs - and we don't want to sell you a kitchen!